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Indiana Legislators debate $10 million proposal for Martin University

Lawmakers are in Conference Committee through the week with the timeline of the final budget passed by the end of the month. 

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Indiana Legislators debate $10 million proposal for Martin University

Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed $10 million for Martin University, Indiana’s only predominantly minority serving institution, in the next state budget, and a leader in the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus wants to make sure the school gets the funding.

But the chairman of the state Senate Committee of Appropirations would like to see the funds allocated to all the schools in the state.

State Sen. Eddie Melton said figuring out a funding solution is a priority of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

RELATED: IBLC legislative agenda emphasizes education, support for students of color

“For the $10 million request from Martin University, I know the window is closing on time to narrow down and negotiate these issues. I’m hopeful that both the caucus of the Senate Democrats and the House Democrats will be included in conversations moving forward,” said Melton.

Martin University President and CEO Dr. Sean Huddleston said he and the governor have been speaking for some time about the importance of the university to the state.

He said Martin could help with workforce development, “particularly in careers that have low levels of diversity but are in high demand.”

“Secondly, because most of Martin University’s graduates stay in Indiana and Indianapolis, (the governor) wanted to know how he could best contribute to an institution that wasn’t contributing to brain drain,” said Huddleston.

The brain drain is when Hoosiers leave the state to pursue higher education and or career paths elsewhere.

RELATED: Martin University announces tuition decrease for undergraduate and graduate students

Aside from workforce needs, Martin could also help other colleges and institutions retain and graduate their low-income and first-generation students, he said.

The $10 million would essentially be used for three primary areas of workforce that there is high demand for:

  • Teachers
  • Law enforcement professionals
  • STEM professions

“So, the thought was if the state could help Martin build capacity to be able to provide more educational opportunities and resources for students pursuing those career areas, then we might be able to help the entire state in those spaces,” Huddleston said. 

House Bill 1001 appropriates funding for K-12 and higher education, and the budget proposal includes the $10 million for Martin. The snag came after the budget proposal was sent to the State Senate Appropriations Committee.

“For some reason, the Senate did not feel that the funding should be retained. I think they unfortunately mischaracterized the funds as per student funding,” said Huddleston.

Sen. Ryan Mishler, a Republican and chair of the Appropriations Committee, said at the time that the $10 million would roughly amount to $40,000 of Martin’s estimated 250 students.

He felt the funding proposal could have a greater impact for more students if they allowed any school in the state to be included in the funding. The committee suggested making the $10 million accessible to all Indiana colleges and universities that would want to serve low-income and minority students.

“So, when they did the calculations with the number of students, they felt that would not be a good use of funds on a per student basis, but the funding was never intended to be per student aid,” said Huddleston, Martin’s CEO.

RELATED: Martin University clears past-due account balances

He said the money was meant to help the university build capacity, technology, learning spaces, build out their structural capabilities, create stronger partnerships with corporations for apprenticeship opportunities for their students and create smaller retention grants to reward students for continuing their education. 

“Either they didn’t understand or didn’t know that that was the intent. In doing their calculations for $45,000, they thought that that was unfair so instead they created a different way to use the funds,” said Huddleston. 

He said the challenge with that approach is that if the $10 million were stretched across the state, that wouldn’t even be able to cover the cost for one textbook for a student, thus reducing the impact it would have for students.

“So, we’re hopeful that the House and the Senate, when they reach an agreement on the final budget, will have the funding restored for Martin University,” said Huddleston.

He has met with Mishler to discuss the issue, and the university has drawn support from the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

State lawmakers are in Conference Committee throughout the week, with the timeline for passing a final budget by the end of the month. 

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at 317-607-5792 or by email jadej@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON.

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